Research Design, Methodology, and Data
It is about a mile, as the crow flies, between the Capitol and the White House.Academic students of Congress and the presidency face a similar distance methodologically. Traditionally, students of Congress tend toward quantitative studies, while presidential scholars typically gravitate toward historical approaches grounded in case studies of individual presidents. Our approach unites these often disparate methods. Adopting the case study approach, we focus on a single president. As a case study, we examine, in great detail, the political context, machinations, and circumstances surrounding the struggle between Congress and Jimmy Carter over the water projects between 1977 and 1978. Carter’s veto of the FY 1979 Appropriations Bill is a fruitful case for examining presidential influence in Congress.
Vetoes are fairly rare under conditions of united party government (Cameron 2000). In choosing to veto an appropriations bill, especially one known to be well larded with benefits for members of Congress, Carter was challenging the way Congress typically did business in a very provocative manner in order to fulfill a campaign promise and assert himself as a chief executive. He was also challenging the foundation of the balance between Congress and the president by seeking to increase presidential authority in the appropriations process. In addition to these strategic institutional goals, Carter faced a short-term political reality: failure to convince Congress to sustain his veto would seal his image as a weak political leader and likely result in accelerated erosion of public support for his presidency. And former members of the Carter administration still support the contention that this was animportant, nonsymbolic veto. One aide described the effort this way: “The effort to get the water project veto sustained was a full White House effort…it was really an all-hands-on-deck effort.”10